SWAT, Oct 25: At least 17 paramilitary soldiers and three civilians were killed and 34 others injured when a powerful bomb ripped through a truck near Police Lines in Mingora on Thursday, witnesses and hospital sources said.

The bombing came a day after the government deployed thousands of troops in Swat valley to quell growing militancy.

Investigators rummaged through the wreckage of the truck, which carried 42 soldiers of the Frontier Constabulary, to determine the cause of the explosion.

“I suspect this was the handiwork of a suicide bomber,” Frontier Constabulary Commandant Malik Mohammad Naveed, whose force suffered most casualties, told Dawn. “The intensity of the explosion was huge,” he said.

“Part of the truck has been blown up. There is no crater to suggest that it was a roadside bomb. It has been hit from the side,” he said.

NWFP Home Secretary Badshah Gul Wazir said: “Investigations are on. But it appears to be the work of a suicide bomber, whether he walked up to the truck or rammed a vehicle into it is yet to be determined.”

He put the death toll at 20, 17 of the victims from the Frontier Constabulary. At least 34 people were wounded, 23 of them security personnel.

The truck taking the troops from the Frontier Constabulary base in Kanju to Barikot was hit by a speedy car coming from the opposite direction, said a security official.

The truck veered off and fell on a rickshaw before bursting into flames.

The official said that the blast triggered a chain of explosions, apparently caused by ammunition in the truck, damaging a nearby petrol pump and several shops.

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Akhtar Ali Shah said the evidence suggested a suicide bombing.

Witnesses said that many wounded soldiers were seen jumping from the overturned burning truck. Several shopkeepers and other civilians were also injured.

The injured people were taken to the Saidu Group Hospital, but many of them were discharged after first aid.

Some of the bodies were badly burnt, a doctor in the hospital said.

Fire-brigade was called in to extinguish the fire. Officials said that when the charred truck was removed with crane, the engine and parts of a Suzuki car were found at the place.

Officials said the driver and conductor of the truck and the driver of the rickshaw were among the dead.

They said parts of the bomber’s body had yet to be found.

Troops cordoned off the locality and security was beefed up in Mingora.

Hours before the blast, rumours of a bomb in the district courts created panic and a bomb disposal squad was called to clear the building.

Sources said local cleric Maulvi Fazlullah had gone into hiding with his supporters following the deployment of over 2,500 troops by the NWFP government in the district to re-assert its writ and eliminate militancy from the area.

“He is off-air for now,” the DIG said, referring to the cleric’s illegal radio station.

But he said different elements, including militants of the banned Jaish-i-Muhammad, were active in the area.

The home secretary vowed that the government would press ahead with its plan to restore its writ. These people would have to surrender, “they have criminal cases registered against them. Whether they do so through negotiations or through force is up to them,” he said. “We will like to resolve the issues through peaceful means but nothing is off the table.”

Ismail Khan contributed to the report from Peshawar.

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